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Comdex Spring 1995
by Rick Smith (June 1995)

A New Comdex
Comdex has changed. In early April, Softbank Corporation acquired the Trade Show Division of the Interface Group for $800 million making it the largest transaction in trade show history. Softbank Corporation is Japan's largest software, peripheral and network products distributor and Japan's largest publisher of computer-related magazines and books. The first show under the management of Masouyoshi Son, Chairman of Softbank Comdex Inc., was held during April 24-27 in Atlanta, Georgia.

In his welcome speech at Comdex, he felt you should "look to Comdex to deepen your knowledge, your understanding and your skills". In order to accomplish this, Comdex "will provide new ways for you to understand new technologies, we will create new interactive exhibit areas, new educational programs and new services to help you find your business solutions". He also has "a vision for a virtual Comdex so that people can communicate, see products, get information all year long, on-line" To him, "the only thing more important than the technology is the customer ... the attendees, the exhibitors, the conference speakers, the advisory board and the press." His customer focus was evident at Comdex Spring and it will be interesting to see how this new focus will impact upcoming Softbank Comdex trade shows.

Bert Roberts, Chairman and CEO of MCI, was the first telecommunications executive to speak at a Comdex Keynote address. His talk described some of the ways that "computing and telecommunications are coming together" and that "it's not enough for that box to compute - it has to be connected". Through the focusing of this synergy of computing and telecommunications, "we expect to see enormous benefits that impact the quality of life and the satisfaction of living". "There will be enormous opportunities ... [for those] ... who play a role in the information economy - equipment manufacturers, software designers, content providers, local and long distance providers".

He discussed advanced networking, starting with the Internet and its 30 million active users with 160,000 users joining every month. With 27,000 World Wide Web sites, doubling in number every 53 days, he feels "some 300 million people will be using the Internet by the year 2000". But Internet is "just the prototype for the coming networks of the future and everyone - manufacturers, content providers, software engineers and network carriers are already in the process of designing what those networks will look like".

Susan Rook, anchor and host of CNN'S "Talk Back Live" discussed how people are using telecommunications technology "to become part of a larger electronic community to share their views, ask questions [and] to interact with each other". Telecommunications is bringing people of diverse backgrounds and locations closer to each other.

With new discoveries and upcoming technology, he feels "we are not very far from having travel reservation systems that use voice recognition, allowing customers to get information, book flights or purchase tickets without having to speak to a live agent". The application of "telepresence", being developed for the army, will allow doctors to "be able to operate on patients who are not even in the same room and may in fact be miles away". MCI has recently participated in "Telemedicine" presentations between doctors in America, China and Russia.

Throughout his address, he was video conferencing using the VBNS (Very High Speed Backbone Network Service) network that MCI has been selected to build for the NSF. The speed of this network is astounding, as only "eight years ago, we were transmitting at a speed of two pages a second", now "this new network will transmit at the speed of two small public libraries per second in the near future". "VBNS is not a network that is experimental or in beta testing. MCI delivered it to the customer today"

Vint Cerf (an Internet creator and designer) feels the key problems that have "to be worked out in order for the Internet to continue to grow are legality, affordability, compatibility and security". (Notice that none of these issues have anything to do with the network technologies involved.) "Liability for a telemedicine consultation", the "use of electronic signatures" and "the fact that it is presently illegal to maintain records only in an electronic form" are some immediate legal challenges. Vint Cerf adds that "export control policies have made it nearly impossible to provide high quality, uniform cryptographic protection for personal and business communications". Most importantly he feels that "the development of online, electronic commerce is seriously impeded by export control policies that interfere with the protection of trillions of dollars in international trade".

The benefits of this technology will allow mankind to "solve fundamental problems in science, engineering medicine and commerce". Scientists will be able to collaborate and enable "teams of researchers who may be thousands of miles away from each other to work on different aspects of one complex problem and instantly communicate the results". This advanced network will "link 5 supercomputing sites around the U.S. over SONET, MCI's national fiber optic technology".

Real-time systems are being created which allow a pilot to "navigate through a tunnel cut between a mountain of storm systems, using [this] virtual reality application, the pilot can nimbly move in and around weather hazards - just as though he was running an obstacle course, the only difference is that now - for the first time - the pilot can see the obstacles". Systems like this may have helped a pilot "review weather and icing conditions during the American Eagle commuter plane accident in Indiana".

"Networks will continue to evolve worldwide, access will become even easier and more affordable. More and more people will be connected to the electronic marketplace. People will find new and imaginative uses for networking that will exceed our wildest expectations". "As it has already done, this exciting process will do more to empower us all - as businesses, as consumers and as citizens".

Looks like there are some exciting times ahead for us to help guide the use of communications in the future.

Copyright 1995 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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